Ritsu Katsumata
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Ritsu Katsumata

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States | SELF

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States | SELF
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"... if you're seen Ritsu perform, you already know: she is not to be hidden. What comes out of her consumes her. She's a brilliant, classically trained violinist who one day chose to run her instrument through a Marshall stack of distorted, amplified noise. A former child prodigy who is now more Hendrix than Handel. We positioned her alongside the most famous vampire in cinematic history, and observed... as she infused layers of unprecedented darkness and beauty into his tragic love story..."

…this heart is a stone, and this is a stone that we throw.
- Beach House, "10 Mile Stereo"

Shortly after midnight on Halloween, I asked Ritsu Katsumata a simple question. Her answer changed the way I think about pretty much everything.

It happened at Wealthy Theatre, where Ritsu just concluded a live score of the silent film "Nosferatu" in front of hundreds of people. We had created an elevated stage for her, on scaffolding, nearly four meters off the ground - placing the avant garde electric violinist alongside the projected characters. As the film's moody hues changed (blues, greens and yellows in rotation) we had Ritsu lighted in kind, set side by side with these mythic archetypes, as she performed her original composition live without a net.

Some brilliant things have happened on that stage: this event (titled "Ritsu vs. Nosferatu") remains beyond compare. When an original production exceeds your wildest expectations, the high defies description. I almost always experience this from the soundboard, so I always want to know how it felt for the performer(s).

I began walking down the aisle, to ask Ritsu about the perspective from the front. Sometimes - as odd as it may sound - what's happening with the audience is dissociated from the stage. (And vice versa, to be sure.) But tonight it was palpable, undeniable, from the moment the credits rolled.

I passed by people filing out, audience members still processing what they had experienced. I overheard bits of walking conversations. The post-show conversations were a relief to the pre-show speculation about the positioning of the scaffolding, and the general skepticism about why we had scaffolding out, at all. Why would we place the composer alongside the performance? And lighted?

The pre-show confusion was understandable, of course: normally, musicians scoring a performance (or film) are tucked in the orchestra pit, in the shadows.

But if you're seen Ritsu perform, you already know: she is not to be hidden. What comes out of her consumes her. She's a brilliant, classically trained violinist who one day chose to run her instrument through a Marshall stack of distorted, amplified noise. A former child prodigy who is now more Hendrix than Handel. We positioned her alongside the most famous vampire in cinematic history, and observed... as she infused layers of unprecedented darkness and beauty into his tragic love story.

I reached the front of the room and looked up at her, as she broke down her gear on the scaffolding. And I asked my question.

"How did that feel?"

Ritsu smiled down to me, and pointed to her ear - apparently unable to hear against the din of people lingering in the theatre. Or the ringing in her ears? Girl rocked out for nearly two hours.

I climbed the first two steps of scaffolding (confession: I'm afraid of heights) and asked her again, louder.

She closed her violin case and smiled, shaking her head. Not because she didn't hear me.

"When I'm done I let it go," she said.

My mind rejected it the second I heard it. She started to climb down the ladder. I jumped down. I didn't understand, but I nodded. I manufactured a look of understanding, as if to say, "Oh, yeah, well, yeah."

Ritsu knew I didn't understand. I'm a crap liar.

"Okay, no: Ritsu, that makes no sense to me," I said. "Why would you do that? How could you let this go? This was awesome."

She set her instrument case down and then climbed up the scaffolding again, to grab her effects gear.

"It's a defense mechanism," she said, again looking down on me. "To avoid postpartum depression."

And then, with that, I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.

*Yes, the voice in my head is Col. Kurtz (from the film "Apocalypse Now"). And yes, it's a problem.

"Well," I said to her, "I'm not going to say anything, then, out of respect for that. But it was stunning. And awesome. And it was a privilege, a rare moment. And on behalf of all of us who worked it, tonight, and everyone who attended, I want to thank you. And on behalf of anyone who missed it, I feel sorry for them - even if they were at the hospital having a baby, and even if that child emerged from the womb reciting Chaucer, it's still their loss."

Ritsu laughed, nodding, and silently continued breaking down her gear.

"Okay," I said, "I'm going to go somewhere else, now."

I walked backward for a few steps, leaving her.

In the lobby were at least a hundred souls who remained - seemingly waiting to thank her, to - who knows - to ask her how it felt.

But Ritsu would leave through the back. The experience belonged to them, now. To use her metaphor: the birth mother had no interest in open adoption. No interest in meddling. No temptation to manipulate their interpretation after the fact. No compulsion to bask in the afterglow. Or at least the will to resist it all.

Looking back, Ritsu's action was a perfect sort of sharing: audience and artist benefited in their own ways. I admired it partly because - if it were me - I'd be compelled to bask in the afterglow. Or argue with those who misunderstood.

I was trying to understand this nobility of trusting your audience. I felt like I was having what recovering alcoholics refer to as a "moment of clarity."

But today I think I understand better: Ritsu's approach has more to do with trusting yourself.

The next segment (Pt. 2) of "Give Away The Stone" will reference Grand Rapids native Maynard James Keenan as an example of doing more than stepping away - actually provoking the observer to find her own interpretation.
- the rapidian

While prodigy violinist Ritsu Katsumata is no longer performing full-time, she continues to make sure that the importance of art is cherished in her city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Not just music, either: film, visual art, dancing, and even cooking are all part of the mix.

“Art is a very important part of life and community, and it’s important for children and adults to be encouraged to express their creativity through the arts,” stated Katsumata. “Whether its music or writing, or drama, or sports, art is a way of expressing emotions and thought, and a way of communicating. A musical phrase, a poem, or a picture can express something that translates universally from person-to-person.”

Katsumata learned about the value of art very early in her life. She found interest in the violin after an instructor visited her class. She began playing at age 10 and was an instant standout among her peers. She began winning various competitions and being enlisted to perform at recitals around the country.

Ritsu Katsumata pursued her musical career through college, where she performed full-time. She enjoyed playing her music, but ten years after her career had begun, she saw the restrictions of performing as a classical craft when she entered a Bach competition. Ritsu played a selection from the legendary classical musician and got surprising reactions from the judges. “Two of the three judges gave me nines on a scale of one to 10, and the third judge gave me a zero. A competitor who made seven, seven, seven-which is kind of mediocre-beat me and got into the finals. They gave us a little write-up, and that third judge said I played it at the wrong tempo,” Katsumata said. “This man had such a rigid definition of what was right and wrong in music. That was my eye-opener. I wasn’t trying to play it ‘right;’ I was self-expressing. I was playing what was inside me, and the notes were a vehicle.”

Once those limitations were recognized and the feeling of being burned out from playing for so long caught up with her, Katsumata quit playing. After graduating college she accepted a surprise job offer at an advertising agency in New York. She didn’t revisit music until years later, when she met her husband. He saw programs of her old performances and urged her to rekindle her musical flames, and she agreed on one condition: her playing now would be on her own terms.

Katsumata began to write her own music, and she purchased a Marshall stack – an amplifier-to plug her violin into and manipulate her sounds. She entered a Jimi Hendrix Guitar Competition in Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival and made it all the way to the finals, where she was then disqualified for playing the wrong instrument. Still, the stage was set – she formed a rock-based power trio, and went on to play at Carnegie Hall and CGBG, a legendary NYC club known as the Home of Underground Rock.

After beginnings of solely playing others’ classical music, she now creates her own amalgams of classical, rock, heavy metal, and more. She cites a recent composition that builds off of Bob Marley riffs to re-tell a Japanese Buddha story.

“It’s completely freeing. Music is my medium, but I think that whatever it is that feels comfortable for anybody, you know that it’s your medium when you feel that you’ve really taken everything out of you in that medium,” Katsumata insists. “Whether it’s a splattered painting or musical phrase, I can definitely express more through my instrument than any other medium.”

These days, Katsumata maintains a full-time job as a multimedia designer because she prefers to keep her art and her job separate. But she’s still very active in the West Michigan arts community. Artistically, she still composes her own material, sits in with artist friends, and scores films. What’s more impressive is her work for other artists..She helps them find paid gigs, and she serves on the board of directors for the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), where she helps organize events and volunteers.

Katsumata also organizes ‘disturbances,’ which she describes as interdisciplinary, multimedia jam sessions. Filmmakers, musicians, dancers, poets, sculptors, painters, and other artists all come together to share experiences and vibe with each other. “During our first disturbance, there were about 12 of us, and some of us had never even met before, but by the end of the night, we were all playing together,” Katsumata remembers. “That unspoken vibe of self-expression turns into something tangible; we all feel it, and we’re all in sync to it.”

“Where people find differences, I’m trying to find similarities,” concluded Katsumata. - ArtServe Creative Impact Michigan

The music swelters and slinks...
author: Tokyo Pop (mixx Magazine)

The music swelters and slinks..."Starsky" features sexy spoken word by Kaori Kubo that gives you the creeps when you know what she's really saying ("Bugs on my skin, crawling, laughing"). "Robot Dance" was inspired by rush hour on the Yamanote LIne. A driving spastic piece, images of an oncoming train certainly appear when listening to this song. While my favorite song is "Pissing" featuring surprisingly poetic spoken lyrics in Japanes and English, the entire collection is powerful and relentless. Not for the weak of heart, however.

...Jungle features musicians from Europe, who bring an ambient, psychedelic feel to Ritsu's violin sounds. While the drums keep a jazzier beat flowing, Ritsu focuses on dizzying arrays of effect-laden electronic sound oozing from her bow. "Karoushi" ( Death by Overwork) features a traditional Noh-influenced Japanese chant leading into a hard-edged trill of electric violin sounds. "Dub" features delay-laden percussion, with an ambient feel, influenced by "spontaneous combustiron in lower Manhattan" - mixx magazine


Hungry Ghosts
Ritsu: Hell
Ritsu: Jungle



I've played classical violin at Carnegie Hall, and lead a Hendrix-inspired power-trio at the late CBGBs plugged into a Marshall stack. Now, I mix it all up- classical motifs and power chords; Tibetan Book of the Dead and Dante's Inferno; inter-media and multi-disciplinary collaborative art-making in an orderly, chaotic, disturbing and pleasant way.